U.S. Retail Sales up for First Time in 3 Months

Higher gas prices to blame

Fueled mostly by higher gasoline prices, retail sales rose in May, for the first time in three months, the Commece Department said on June 11. Sales edged up 0.5% in line with expectations.

Gasoline sales, which rose 3.6%, helped boost the April retail numbers. Oil prices struck eight-month highs on June 11, breaching $72 in New York, after a big drop in U.S. crude reserves and as the International Energy Agency hiked its global demand estimate for the first time in months. Excluding this component, retail sales were up 0.2 percent.

While the 0.5% May gain following two monthly drops reflects a stabilization in the trend in consumer spending, analysts say it may be too early to project growth in the months ahead amid rising unemployment.

One key factor was that auto sales did not add more to the May increase, analysts said. "Auto sales rose only 0.5%, much less than implied by the unit sales data from the automakers and not enough to drive a wedge between the headline and ex-autos numbers," said Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist for High Frequency Economics.

The economic analysis firm's measure of core sales, which excludes autos, gas and food, rose only 0.1%, after a 0.1% dip in April.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2009

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